Maruf Ali’s killing: How the Delhi police stacked up vague evidence against four Muslim men
Shambhavi Thakur
Investigating the Delhi Riots

Maruf Ali’s killing: How the Delhi police stacked up vague evidence against four Muslim men

The crime branch didn’t name, let alone arrest, the Hindu rioters named by the victims and eyewitnesses.

By Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar

Published on :

This is the final part of a two-part report on Maruf Ali's murder, a test case for the police's handling of the investigation into the 2020 Delhi carnage. Read the first part.

For shooting dead Maruf Ali, an electrician in Northeast Delhi, during February’s communal carnage, the police have chargesheeted six men. They are Shuaib Saifi, Imran Khan, Mohammad Dilshad, Mohammad Imran, Manoj Kumar, and Navin Tyagi.

“There was sufficient evidence on record, both oral and technical...to arrest the following accused persons. Hence, they were arrested in the present case,” the chargesheet declares.

The oral evidence includes statements from Haroon, Shamshad, Mohammad Irfan, and one Chaudhary Haider Ali.

In the first part of this series, Newslaundry reported that Haroon and Shamshad had repudiated the statements attributed to them in the chargesheet filed by the Delhi police. They asserted that they recognised the men who had shot Maruf and Shamshad, contrary to what the chargesheet claims.

The police’s SIT, however, claims that Haider and Irfan did recognise the rioters. Haider was listed as a prime witness. Irfan is the brother of one of the accused, Mohammad Imran.

‘It is possible the police will kill me’

Haider, 32, was a “reporter” who was “roaming” in Subhash Mohalla on the night of February 25, states the chargesheet. “Lots of people were present on the road and in Gali no 2 and also on the rooftop of Ram Singh’s house.” Haider purportedly saw Shuaib and Imran on the rooftop and told them to stop, but to no avail. “They were asking him to get aside as he may get hurt because they were throwing stones.”

Haider also saw Dilshad, who was the “instigator”.

On May 28, Haider was shot dead near his house in Subhash Mohalla. “The police said around 8.30 pm on Thursday two unidentified bike-borne men opened fire at Ali,” the Press Trust of India reported on May 29. An Indian Express report on June 20 claimed he had fallen to a gang war between one Hashim Baba and Abdul Nasir.

However, in the months leading to his death, Haider had a thorny relationship with the police. “It is possible that the police will not spare me after this Facebook live,” he had said in a video posted on his YouTube channel on February 28. “It’s possible they will kill me. It is possible that politicians connected to the police will have me killed.”

Chaudhary Haider Ali in a photo from 2017.
Chaudhary Haider Ali in a photo from 2017. Courtesy: Facebook

Haider was an associate of Abdul Nasir, chief of the youth wing of the Republican Party of India (A), and his video was a rant directed at the police and reports in the mainstream media claiming that Nasir’s “gang” was likely behind the Delhi carnage. He alleged that the police had been after Nasir and him since before the violence.

Newslaundry met Ashok Sharma, the SHO of the Bhajanpura police station, to ask about the shooting of Haider, a prime witness in Maruf’s murder. Sharma feigned ignorance, saying he had been appointed to his post merely two days earlier. He refused to divulge any information about the case.

‘This, right here, is false’

Not only did Irfan identify the rioters for the SIT, he collected CCTV footage from around the neighbourhood and gave it to them in a pen drive. The SIT eventually arrested his brother, Imran. Irfan now manages Imran’s medical store in Bhajanpura in his absence.

But as Irfan read his statement in the chargesheet, he twitched. It claims that besides identifying four Hindus from the CCTV footage – Manoj Kumar, Navin Tyagi, one Nikku, and one Guchhi – he also identified Dilshad and Imran Khan.

“This, right here, is false,” he said, pointing to the statement attributed to him. “I didn’t identify any Muslim to the SIT. Imran’s and Dilshad’s names have been added here by the police.”

Two names that Irfan claims he actually gave, Nikku and Guchhi, residents of Lane 2 in Subhash Mohalla’s B Block, do not find a second mention in the chargesheet.

Mohammad Irfan, a witness in Maruf Ali’s murder.
Mohammad Irfan, a witness in Maruf Ali’s murder. Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar
The statement attributed to Irfan in the chargesheet.
The statement attributed to Irfan in the chargesheet.

The missing CCTV

The technical evidence collected by the SIT includes footage from three CCTV cameras in the vicinity of the scene of the crime. According to a map of the area prepared by the police, and accessed by Newslaundry, one CCTV camera is installed right outside Lane 2 in Subhash Mohalla. It was used to identify Shuaib, Dilshad and Imran. The second camera, installed near Lane 4, was used to identify Imran Khan.

The third camera, belonging to the city’s public works department, is installed right opposite Thakur halwai in K Block of Subhash Mohalla. This is where the Hindu mob reportedly stood that night. Here, however, the police hit a dead end.

“No CCTV footage of the premises H No K 45, K Block, Subhash Mohalla, West Ghonda, was provided by the PWD Delhi stating reason that DVR of said CCTV cameras is missing, the reason stated was that the DVR has been stolen,” the chargesheet explains.

It doesn’t clarify which CCTV camera was used to identify Navin Tyagi and Manoj Kumar. It is also silent on whether the gun and the bullets used to kill Maruf and injure Shamshad was retrieved from the scene of the crime.

Newslaundry met Mohammad Dilshad and the families of Shuaib, Imran, Manoj, and Navin to ask about the Delhi police’s case against them.

Dilshad: ‘I was trying to dispel the men, not instigate them’

Dilshad, 44, has lived in a street adjacent to Maruf’s and Shamshad’s homes for the past 26 years. When Newslaundry met him, he sat in his tiny verandah with his wife and daughters, breathing heavily as he described his life over the past few months.

“I have a heart condition since 2008 and I have had three surgeries since. I am also diabetic,” he said, as his wife intervened frequently to wipe the sweat off his face. “I was in jail for more than two months and my condition deteriorated.”

On June 5, the Karkardooma court granted Dilshad interim bail, citing his medical condition.

“It does appear from the report that the Jail Administration is finding it difficult to provide him the treatment which he requires,” the judge observed. “I am of the view that in the given circumstance when the jail administration is not providing him the treatment, the accused should not be denied the opportunity to get treatment outside.”

The police arrested Dilshad on March 31. In its chargesheet, they claim that he was involved in “instigating the young boys for rioting” in Subhash Mohalla. This charge is based on inputs from a “secret informer”. Additionally, the police relied on three eyewitnesses to identify him from CCTV footage. One of the witnesses is Shamshad, who flatly denied identifying Dilshad, or even naming him as an accused.

The police’s chargesheet contains screengrabs from the CCTV footage, recorded on February 24 and 25, to back up their case against Dilshad. The picture below is used to claim that Dilshad was “seen directing with his hand gesturing the mob to keep a bag of stones on the rooftop of the building of Ram Singh for pelting it on the other community”.

Harun and Shamshad have claimed that Ram Singh was part of the mob that killed Maruf.

The picture below, the police claim, shows two men “carrying one bag full of bricks in their hands and entering the gate of Ram Singh’s building”. Interestingly, these photos are from the footage recorded of February 24, the night before Maruf and Shamshad were shot.

The police claim the following picture is from the night of February 25. In it, the chargesheet states, Dilshad, “by the gestures of his hand, instigated the mob to attack the other community”.

The chargesheet also claims that during his police interrogation, Dilshad admitted to his role in the violence.

Speaking to Newslaundry, Dilshad rejected the police’s allegations. “I had no role in the riots, so why would I accept it? A mob entered our locality on both February 24 and 25. The police didn’t answer our calls. On the first day, my blood pressure went up after aggressive sloganeering in the area,” he said. “We couldn’t go to a hospital so I went to a local doctor. When the mob arrived, the doctor shut the clinic and I fled from there.”

The doctor, Narendra Sharma, told Newslaundry that the situation on February 24 was indeed tense, compelling him to shutter his clinic. “I don’t have an entry in his name, but I can’t deny that he came here,” the doctor said, referring to Dilshad. “There were many people at the clinic that day. I have known Dilshad for 15 years, we have never seen him indulge in such activities. I can’t comment beyond that.”

On his way back, Dilshad saw a few of his neighbours gathered near the local Auliya Masjid, anticipating an attack. “Hundreds of people were trying to attack the mosque from a road and from a terrace nearby. I told the boys to go inside their homes. I was trying to dispel them,” he said. “They have taken a picture of that moment and said I was instigating the mob. No one in those pictures is armed.”

Dilshad’s 17-year-old daughter said her father was “expressive” when he talked. “That is how he talks,” she said. “He was raising his hands and telling them to go inside.”

After he was arrested, Dilshad said, the SIT made him sign papers that he did not understand. He denied the chargesheet’s claim that he used to attend citizenship law protests in Northeast Delhi. “They asked me, ‘So, did you not join the protest against CAA and NRC to do something for your qaum?’ I said I have to look after my poor health, what will I do for my qaum?”

The SIT also asked whether he had links with the Popular Front of India, an Islamist group. “I don’t even know what that is,” Dilshad said.

Dilshad used to run a shop in North Ghonda, but closed it down because of poor health. The family claims that his medical condition spiralled them into poverty, and the legal costs since his arrest have only worsened their financial situation.

“We were terrorised during the riots. We were killed. Now, we are being hounded. Everything the Delhi police are doing is one-sided. There is no justice,” Dilshad said, his gaze dropping to the floor.

Many of Dilshad’s neighbours were also notified by the SIT about their alleged involvement in the violence. Fearing arrest, they fled, leaving behind a slew of locked homes.

Locked homes of those in Subhash Mohalla who were notified by the police about their alleged involvement in the carnage.
Locked homes of those in Subhash Mohalla who were notified by the police about their alleged involvement in the carnage. Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar

Mohammad Imran: ‘My brother came to pick me up’

A few metres away from Dilshad’s house, right beside the Auliya mosque, is the house of Abdul Hamid, the father of Imran. Like the other five accused, Imran, 30, faces charges under the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act. He was arrested on April 11.

As in the case of Dilshad, the police allege that Imran “accepted that he was having sticks in his hand and his movements in videos are clearly establishing his involvement in the riots”. The chargesheet claims that Imran attended anti-CAA protests in Bhajanpura and Shaheen Bagh.

The chargesheet contains multiple pictures of Imran standing outside the Auliya Masjid with a stick in his hand. It claims he was identified by “previously arrested accused persons”, including Dilshad and Shamshad.

The following pictures are attached to the chargesheet with the claim that Imran was “highly active with danda in his hand along with rioters”, and that the CCTV footage shows “intense activities of pelting stones” between two mobs, one of them a “Hindu mob”.

Abdul Hamid, a reticent man, recalled that Imran, who lives with him, was visiting his brother Rihan, 38, on the night of February 25. “When Jai Shri Ram sloganeering began, we asked Rihan to come stay with us. We sent Imran to get him, and he took a stick with him, given the situation outside,” Hamid said.

If Imran indeed grabbed a stick anticipating danger, he was prescient. Returning from Rihan’s house, about 10 minutes away in Bhajanpura’s K Block, the brothers came upon a purportedly Hindu mob. Rihan was shot in the leg.

“I had sent my kids away on the morning of February 25. Imran came to pick me up around 10 pm that night,” Rihan told Newslaundry, sitting in his dilapidated tailoring shop in Bhajanpura. “As we were heading back, we saw Radhe, Sonu and Bobby. They were abusing us. Then Radhe shot at me and my brother. The bullet hit my shin.”

Given the names mentioned by Rihan, it was apparently the same mob that shot Shamshad and Maruf. That would make Imran a crucial eyewitness rather than an accused in Maruf’s murder.

Rihan ran into the same problems with the police as Harun and Shamshad. He filed an FIR at the Bhajanpura police station on February 28. “I gave sub-inspector Rahul the names of those who shot me. He said, ‘Don’t give the names now. Do it later,’” Rihan claimed. “The FIR omits Sonu, Bobby and Radhe’s names. There has been no investigation in my case.”

Not just the FIR, a separate statement recorded by the police in the matter and accessed by Newslaundry also omits the three names. Rihan said ruefully: “They have arrested Muslims after the riots. The actual culprits were called to the crime branch twice and let off. They still roam free around here.”

Shuaib Saifi: ‘My son is falsely implicated’

The youngest of the six accused is Shuaib Saifi, 19, who is still in school. Saifi and his family are tenants in Ram Singh’s house.

“The tenants residing in the building were actively involved in the riots,” the chargesheet pronounces. “Hence on an input of a secret informer a raid was conducted...and two alleged rioters namely Shuaib Saifi s/o Azad Saifi and Imran s/o Ayub were apprehended from the said building.”

According to the chargesheet, Shuaib, like Dilshad and Imran, admitted to his police interrogators that he had pelted stones, raised religious slogans and instigated the violence. It also claims that he had attended anti-CAA protests in Noor-e-Ilahi area and that his phone contained a video placing him on the terrace of Ram Singh’s house with a “couple of bags that have brick pieces” to execute a “pre-planned strategy”.

Screengrabs from this video are not included in the chargesheet. Instead, the police have attached photos of Shuaib on a road, wearing a checked shirt and talking to a few men while carrying a stick. These images are purportedly from February 24, a day before Maruf and Shamshad were shot.

Curiously, the chargesheet claims that on February 25, Shuaib was not on the streets but on Ram Singh’s terrace. No pictorial evidence is produced for this.

Newslaundry met Shuaib’s father, Azad Saifi, at Ram Singh’s house to talk about his son’s arrest.

"The picture the police have used is from February 24," Azad told Newslaundry. “My son was here on the 24th. But on February 25, we sent him to our second house in Lane 9, more than half a kilometre away. He had no role in this quarrel nor was he here.”

On March 10, the SIT picked up Shuaib and Imran from Shuaib’s house. Imran was apparently there to collect some books for an upcoming board exam. They were arrested on March 11.

Azad levelled serious allegations against the SIT as well as the Bhajanpura police. “SIT officers told me that if I wanted to free my son, I would have to pay Rs 5 lakh,” he said. “Before Shuaib was arrested, the policemen at the Bhajanpura station had threatened to implicate my son if I didn’t pay Rs 2 lakh. Why would I do that? He is innocent.”

Azad Saifi at his home in Northeast Delhi’s Ghonda.
Azad Saifi at his home in Northeast Delhi’s Ghonda. Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar

Azad, however, admitted that on the night of February 24, Muslim men in the area had come out on the streets in “self-defense”. In a letter to senior police officers on June 3, and copied to prime minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, Azad alleged: “My son is being falsely implicated because I saw Yogi, Bunty and Sonu involved in the riots. I am an eyewitness...please provide protection to me and my family.”

To firm up its case against Shuaib, the police claim that they found a WhatsApp conversation on his phone, where he asked for “samaan”, a thing, along with “7 goli” from one Abrar Bhai. The chargesheet states: “Saman being referred to was obviously an illegal firearm.”

Additionally, the police have printed a picture allegedly from February 26 of Shuaib’s hand purportedly holding “one live cartridge”. Newslaundry can not independently verify the veracity of the WhatsApp conversation or the picture.

In a transcript of Shuaib’s interrogation annexed with the chargesheet, accessed by Newslaundry, he told the SIT he could not procure the gun from Abrar. When asked about his motive for trying to get a gun, he said: “To protect myself during the riots.”

Manoj Kumar: ‘The actual culprits were let off under political pressure’

Manoj Kumar Gujjar, 25, owns a dairy business in Bhajanpura. “Accused Manoj was part of the communal riots as part of Hindu mob and he actively participated in the riots,” states the chargesheet.

Manoj was arrested by the SIT on April 10. The police’s chargesheet has pictures purportedly showing him pelting stones on the night of February 25. It adds that he was identified from CCTV footage by Shamshad. But Shamshad told Newslaundry he didn't do so, and does not know Manoj.

Newslaundry met Manoj’s mother Rajesh Devi, 60, at their home in Ghonda, barely 100 metres away from where Maruf was shot dead. Rajesh Devi has been nursing a broken leg and poor health for the last few years. Manoj, she said, was responsible for her care. Since his arrest, her grandson has taken over.

Rajesh Devi could not recognise Manoj from the picture in the chargesheet. "He was at home that day,” she said, “but if there’s a photo of him then he must have gone there."

Rajesh Devi at her home in Ghonda.
Rajesh Devi at her home in Ghonda. Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar

PP Singh Bhati, Manoj’s lawyer, told Newslaundry that he had applied for interim bail for Manoj citing Rajesh Devi’s poor health but it was dismissed. “Manoj was at home when the incident took place. He is my son’s friend and since my son was getting married, they all got together to celebrate at my son’s house,” Bhati said. “We got to know about the shooting later that night. When he went out to sense the mood, he saw a crowd and picked up a stone in self-defense.”

“The photo in the chargesheet is indeed Manoj’s but he did not shoot Maruf or Shamshad,” Bhati added. “That snapshot is from footage after the murder was committed.”

Manoj has been charged under penal provisions related to unlawful assembly, murder, and attempt to murder as well as the Arms Act. Asked about Manoj’s purported picture in the chargesheet, the lawyer said: “There is a Section 149 in IPC according to which if a crowd commits a crime, everyone in it is treated as equally responsible for it. The police have deliberately planted IPC 149 in this case."

The lawyer alleged that the police had let go the real murders because they were either bribed or were under political pressure. "Those who actually committed the crime have been let go,” he said. “The role of the police is highly questionable. The murderers escaped and innocents have been trapped.”

Navin Tyagi: ‘My brother is being framed by the police’

Navin Tyagi, 28, was arrested on April 10. The chargesheet states that he was “part of the communal riots from the Hindu side and he participated actively in the riots and played a role of instigator”.

Navin’s picture attached with the chargesheet shows him dressed in a maroon T-shirt and standing “in front line of mob who are having lathis, danda in their hands and pelting stones”. “In the same video,” the chargesheet adds, “one person with muffled face is seen firing.”

The police claim that Navin was identified from the CCTV footage by Mohammad Irfan and Chaudhary Haider, who were at the spot, as well as Manoj. Moreover, the chargesheet states, Navin “accepted his guilt”.

Newlaundry met Navin's brother Jitendra Tyagi, 30, at their house in Ghonda. Jitendra said his brother was wrongly arrested.

"My brother has nothing in his hands in the picture produced by the police. His only fault was that he was standing and watching the violence. The policemen showed me that video,” Jitendra said. “That night, he went outside, glanced at the rioters, and returned home. He is being framed.”

Asked who would want to frame his brother, Jitendra named a local policeman, who he claimed had a grudge against the family. “If Navin had to riot, he would have been armed. But he is only seen standing empty-handed and that too for a few seconds," Jitendra said.

Navin Tyagi’s brother Jitendra at their home in Ghonda.
Navin Tyagi’s brother Jitendra at their home in Ghonda. Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar

Navin is associated with the local chapter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. After his arrest, the RSS offered legal help to the family. A lawyer named KK Tyagi handled the case but when he couldn’t secure Navin’s bail, the family approached Manoj Chauhan, who practices at the Karkardooma court.

Newslaundry spoke to Chauhan, who said he had applied for bail twice on medical grounds, but it was dismissed. “Once his child was ill, and then his wife fell ill too,” Chauhan said.

Asked about the CCTV footage, Chauhan said Navin was standing a considerable distance away from the spot where Maruf and Shamshad were shot, adding: “He was standing near his house. The police somehow got that footage and named him as an accused. "

The picture does show a “muffled man” standing ahead of Navin firing at others, he said, but "you cannot slap IPC 302 on him for that”. “There could be lakhs of people standing there,” Chauhan argued. “Actually, the police have not investigated this case properly. Given the immense pressure on the crime branch, they have picked up anyone for anything. We will only know the truth after the trial.”

Coda

The Delhi police’s investigation into the murder of Maruf Ali is under a cloud for allegedly manipulating, distorting and fabricating the testimonies of his brother Harun as well as Shamshad and Rihan.

Shamshad and Harun are also witnesses and they accuse the SIT of botching up the case to protect members of the Hindu mob of CAA supporters who shot Maruf and Shamshad on February 25. A prime witness, Haider Ali, was killed in Bhajanpura in May. Another witness, Irfan, says he only identified Hindu rioters to the SIT, which later falsely added two Muslims in his statement.

The police haven’t arrested any of the men named by Harun and Shamshad as the alleged murderers of Maruf. Two Hindus named by Irfan have also not been listed as accused. They have, however, detained four Muslim men. The concluding section of their chargesheet states: “All the arrested accused persons being members of an unlawful assembly involved in the crime are equally and squarely responsible for the crime committed by the members of unlawful assembly.”

The police might have got away with this claim if not for the established fact that the unlawful assembly on February 24 and 25 included two groups – a Hindu mob that killed Maruf and shot Shamshad and Subhash Mohalla’s Muslims who claimed to be defending themselves and a local mosque from this mob.

The evidence put out by the police to establish that the four Muslim men were involved in rioting is weak and vague. One piece of evidence, for example, is a statement attributed to Shamshad, who has denied making it. Given this, it is baffling how the police charged the four men with murder. In contrast, the CCTV snapshots of the purported pro-CAA mob in the chargesheet show Manoj pelting stones and Navin looking on as a man with a “muffled face” fires a gun.

Questioned about this, the senior crime branch officer told Newslaundry that our reading of the chargesheet was limited. “If you only look at the chargesheet through IPC 302, it will baffle you,” he asserted, when asked about how four Muslim men came to be arrested for a crime committed by a Hindu mob of CAA supporters. “It depends on how you read the chargesheet.”

On Shamshad denying having made the statement, the officer said: “It is not the question of Shamshad only. The offense is against the state. Even if he does not say a single word, there are many other factors. The chargesheet is also not final. This is a pending investigation.”

The question, however, was about what Shamshad had actually said. Pressed on this, the officer said he “did not remember” the claims made in the chargesheet under Shamshad’s name since he was handling several other cases.

When we pointed out that Maruf’s family was accusing the police of mishandling the investigation, the officer accused us of conducting a “media trial”. “What about people who lost their homes, what about people whose shops were burned?” he asked rhetorically.

Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer who is representing Harun, Shamshad, Shuaib, and Imran, told Newslaundry that this was a classic case of the police covering their tracks.

“I haven’t seen the chargesheet yet but what is clear from the circumstances till now is that the police are not only destroying the actual evidence, they are also creating evidence against innocent Muslims so the actual perpetrators, who are known to the police, go scot free,” he said.

In Subhash Mohalla, victims and witnesses point fingers at Sonu, Bobby, Yogi, Lala, Bunty, Radhe, Ram Singh, Abhishek, and Mohit, who have not been charged by the police. The crime branch summoned most of them to its office in Daryaganj, but hasn’t named them as accused in the matter after three months of investigation.

The police, however, say they are still investigating the case and will likely file supplementary chargesheets at the Bhajanpura police station.

The investigation into the communal violence has come to be marred with grave allegations of apathy and collusion on part of the police. Maruf’s murder, and the investigation into it, captures the police’s shortcomingsin a microcosm. In Subhash Mohalla, as in all parts of Northeast Delhi, people claimed their constant efforts to reach out to the police were in vain.

On February 25, the third night of the violence, the police did little to disperse the “unlawful assembly”. That night, officers from the Bhajanpura police station reached Harun’s home an hour after his brother was murdered and his neighbours Shamshad and Rihan were shot. The families are now concerned about their safety and accuse the police of seeking to shield the actual culprits. The ball is now in the judiciary’s court.

Newslaundry sent a detailed questionnaire to the Delhi police on July 11 for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.

This report is part of a series looking at the police’s handling of the investigation into the 2020 Delhi carnage.

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